Under proposed rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, oil and gas well operations across the nation would be required to strengthen leak detection, repairs and regular inspections.
Morgan King, climate campaign coordinator for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, explained the new rules would clamp down on the practice of lighting gas on fire at production sites, known as routine flaring, which releases large amounts of methane and other air pollutants into the atmosphere, which nearby communities subsequently breathe in.
“These volatile organic compounds, they worsen respiratory diseases, increase the risk of cancer and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases,” King pointed out. “And these are all health impacts that West Virginians and central Appalachians are bearing the brunt of.”
King says methane emissions from the oil and gas sector especially jeopardize the health and safety of the industry’s workers. Research shows long-term exposure to the toxic air pollution emitted from oil and gas sites increases the risk of death from COVID-19 by 11%.
The EPA is accepting written public comments on its proposal to reduce methane and other harmful pollutants from oil and gas wells until Feb. 13.
King contended the process of flaring wastes gas, which could otherwise be used to power homes and businesses.
“The value of gas that’s raised wasted each year in the country from leaks at low-producing oil and gas wells is $1.3 billion, and that is enough to run 3.6 million homes for the year,” King outlined.
Steve Anderson, a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General, believes the stricter methane standards will nudge the oil and gas industry toward solar, wind and other renewables.
“There’s all kinds of renewable energies that I believe will not only reduce our reliance on oil and the carbon based fuels, but provide opportunities to develop a truly green economy that’ll put a lot of the people that are presently working in coal mines and in the oil industry, put them to work installing solar panels and wind turbines,” Anderson explained.
The Solar Energy Industries Association puts the value of West Virginia’s solar-energy market at $70 million, with more than $19 million invested in solar in 2021.